It's been 18 long years since West Aurora last made the IHSA state football playoffs. The year was 1994 -- the fall after I graduated high school.
Yeah, it's been awhile.
This is my 10th year here at The Beacon-News, and during that time West High has had only one winning season in football. That came in 2004, when the Blackhawks went 5-4 and missed the postseason due to a lack of playoff points.
People have asked me many times through the years what it will take to bring West High football back to prominence. Heck, my friend and former colleague Jim Owczarski wrote a great story about that very topic in February of 2011, prior to the hiring of current West head coach Nate Eimer.
For all the theories we can come up with, maybe it comes down to this: West Aurora needs to get the hell out of the DuPage Valley Conference. West left the Upstate Eight Conference at the conclusion of the 1996-97 academic year and joined the DVC the following fall.
Sixteen football seasons have come and gone since, and what do the Blackhawks have to show for it? A big goose egg. Consider this: West Aurora is 0-16 against Naperville Central, 0-16 against Naperville North and 0-16 against Wheaton Warrenville South.
West High fans, every season you have three automatic losses on your schedule. That means you have to go at least 5-1 in the other six games to become playoff-eligible. That's a tall task, and the Blackhawks have pulled that off only once -- the aforementioned 2004 season. However, that fall West High beat a winless East Aurora team and a one-win Elgin squad during its non-conference schedule. Thus, they didn't have the playoff points to get into the postseason.
The DuPage Valley is arguably the best football conference in the state. It is simply better than Upstate Eight most years (although this year might be considered an exception with the success of Waubonsie and Neuqua Valley). For a school like West, it's really hard to find a path to six wins in a conference like the DVC.
In addition to that one 5-4 season, West High has put together three 4-5 seasons over the last five years -- 2007, 2010 and 2011. I would argue a 4-5 season in the DVC is roughly equivalent to a 6-3 campaign in the Upstate Eight.
If West High were still in the Upstate Eight, it might have had as many as four IHSA state playoff appearances over the last 10 years. If you can make the postseason every now and then, that creates hope and interest in the program. You get more athletes coming out for football. Maybe you finally get some traction and start to build a consistent winner.
Where am I going with all this?
Well, there's an open spot in the Upstate Eight Conference right now. Lake Park is leaving after this academic year. West Aurora has filed a letter of interest to fill that vacancy.
The letter does not obligate the school, it merely expresses interest, according to West athletic director Jason Buckley. There will be competition for that open spot in the UEC. Sources tell us Glenbard East and West Chicago -- two DVC schools that are also struggling mightily to keep up in football -- have also expressed interest. West High is now waiting to hear back from the Upstate Eight.
I hope the move happens. I'd like to see West back in the same conference with other Aurora schools, like East High, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley. I'd also like to see Eimer's football program have a fighting chance to get off the ground.
I think that football playoff drought on the West Side of Aurora would end sooner rather than later if West High moves back to the UEC.